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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Plight Of The At Home Dad

So I pulled into my son Cole's playschool parking lot this morning and it looked surprisingly empty.

He only goes Monday, Thursday and Friday from 9am to 1pm (so I tend to really look forward to those mornings).

I spent the better part of the morning listening to him cry and whine about how he didn't want to got to school... only to get to school and find out that it was a TEACHER WORK DAY!

Now, I came home and saw that it was clearly marked on the calendar. But Monday my wife works late so I took the boys to hang out with another couple with kids and had dinner. Tuesday night I had band practice and last night I had to work a catering gig (pre-game cocktail party at UNC's business school prior to tip off for the UNC/NC State game) only to find that my free morning had disappeared.

And I have to say I think that if I was a mom, I would have had a least two to three calls from other moms in my son's class setting up play dates for the teacher work day, especially since we're experiencing record temps here in the Carolinas this week (yesterday it was in the 70s!).

Which brings me to yesterday: Weather was warm and I suggested to my son that we go to the park. Bored of the park we usually go to, he suggested the "yellow" park which is the park in this faux village community called Meadowmont that he knows about because we went to the pool there last summer.

We get to the park and thee is one mom with an infant strapped to her chest and another child with long curly read hair (held in barrettes) and they are having a picnic of sorts ON THE PLAY STRUCTURE. Another group shows up comprised of two moms each with infants slash toddlers who appear to be sisters and with their mother (i.e. grandma).

Then me and my son.

The moms immediately interact with each other with "grandma" starting off the AHD smack down when she asked the redheaded woman if my son belongs to her. My son has brown hair and blue eyes and, ahem, looks just like me! The redheaded mom (now officially referred to as "hippy mom") said "no" while one of the sister moms sort of gave me that "sorry my mom's a kook" look.

Grandma and her daughters decided to have a picnic themselves ON THE PLAY STRUCTURE and - possibly realizing how rude this was - asked the hippy mom if her kids would care to join them.

It was like I didn't even exist.

Shortly thereafter, I noticed hippy mom standing over by the tree line watching her daughter go pee. I was duly impressed that she had taught her daughter to stand up and pee until I realized that her daughter was a boy. He ended up peeing on his pants by virtue of letting them land on the ground where he had just peed. Did hippy mom changed his pants? No. He spent the rest of the time there swinging on swings and sliding on slides with pee-stained sweat pants.

Now I can sorta roll with that - you got caught unprepared but it was a nice day and figured it would dry out quickly. But what I couldn't understand was putting barrettes in your boy's hair. Fine, let your kid grow his hair long, but don't make the boy look like a girl. Grandma added insult when she made some comment about being "an older sister" to which hippy mom replied "brother."

Hippy mom left a short while later (after her son ran around screaming in my son's face acting like some monster; I wanted my son to break out a wrestling move on him as he clearly had the size advantage but he proved even wiser by just saying, "Stop, I don't like that,").

Then, as I'm helping my son cross the monkey bars I heard grandma shriek, "Where's my purse?" and I saw that her purse was by the monkey bars. One of her daughter's pointed to the monkey bars and said "over there."

Grandma got up, walked over, picked up her purse and put it down by her side.

So in one trip to the park I got vibed as a pedophile, excommunicated from parental conversation and insinuated I was a thief.

And now today I got blindsided by the teacher work day and wonder if there's a play date with several moms' of my son's classmates going on at some park somewhere.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Pets: To Have Or Have Not*

It was my son’s third birthday and he got a little fish tank.

Both the wife and I grew up with fish tanks so delving into the issue of having a pet with a fish seemed like a reasonable idea.

Of course, we do have a proper pet - a cat named Ginger who has been with us since the early ‘90s. We got Ginger while we were living in Los Angeles. You see we had these friends who were real animal lovers. They lived in Tujunga, a small neighborhood above Glendale in the San Fernando Valley. And these people rescued just about any animal that they could; they had birds and cats and dogs and snakes and fish and hamsters and shit if you told me they had a flea circus I wouldn’t have been surprised.

So Ginger was rescued by them as a kitty from the netherworld streets of Los Angeles. She became ours by proxy; she was the only cat that ever warmed up to me and would always come to me whenever we were at their place. It was a no-brainer that when our group house situation dissolved in Glendale, that we would have this grey, short-legged Burmese come live with us in our Los Feliz apartment.

As the story goes, she was found by a dumpster near a Ford dealership in Tujunga. She turned out not to be neutered like we thought so we got her fixed. But that was after we discovered an infected sore underneath her fuzzy hair and had to have surgery for the nasty abscessed thing. She would also survive the great big rumble that was the Northridge earthquake and even traveled with us in our car during our exodus from Tinseltown and has been warming our hearts in North Carolina ever since.

But when the kids came along, she made herself scarce, occasionally showing her face after they went to bed. Friends and relatives often debated that she even existed becomes nobody but us ever saw the cat. They’d see the litter box in the bathroom or the food bowl in the kitchen and be like, “You guys have a cat?”

So to say that we didn’t have a pet would be a disservice to her.

Anyway, Spencer got one of those 2-gallon hexagon fish tank set-ups and we were off and running in pet fish land. I began to dream of a school of African cichlids brooding about in a wall-length aquarium but was quickly steered back to reality by my own memories of sticking my G.I. Joes’ in the family fish tank “scuba diving” only to contaminate the water and kill all the fish.

There was no way I was going to shell out top dollar for a bunch of fish that would be dead in a month’s time.

We tested the waters with some goldfish, but I don’t remember them lasting very long. We turned to a beta – the Japanese fighting fish. The fish had simple needs and could handle life as a loner. Spencer named him Blue, because, well the fucking fish was blue!

Blue had a good run of several months, maybe even half a year before he died during a 4-day trip to Maryland because we forgot to get someone to come over and feed it while we were gone. God bless cats, man. You just leave out some food, a little water and some fresh litter and they are good to go.

When Blue bit the dust, we had our first major trauma of having a pet: death. We had opted to flush the first batch of dead goldfish down the toilet to the Great Big Aquarium In The Sky, but with Blue Spencer wanted nothing to do with that – he wanted to give Blue a proper burial. He dug a hole, made a marker out of popsicles sticks and we had our moment of silence for Blue.

For a good year after that, every time Spencer drew a family picture he would include Blue. Of course the thing he scribbled on the paper looked nothing like a fish and I’d have to ask him what it was. “That’s Blue, dad,” he’d say emphatically.

I decided maybe we should get another beta for the kid. So we went to the local pet store and got a marble-colored beta for him. Spencer named him Lots Of Colors. He must have some Native American blood in him I thought after finding out the name of the new fish. I mean my wife was adopted so anything could be possible when we get to talking about bloodlines.

Lots Of Colors didn’t last very long. Spencer was older now and I didn’t supervise the feedings quite like I used to with Blue. I’d catch him feeding the fish three to four times of day, not the little pinch of flakes as instructed. We were talking gobs of food. The tank started getting dirty and green with algae. The fish would hide amongst the meager plastic plant and singular sea shell. This would cause Spencer to tap on the glass to see “if he was okay.”

Lots of Colors joined the other side a few days later. He lived long enough for us not to be able to get our refund back but short enough that we decided to bail on the idea of having a pet fish.

By this time, Spencer’s younger brother Cole had come along and Ginger sightings were more prevalent. I guess she started to figure out that if she wanted to get some attention she was going to have to come and get it.

In the mornings, both the boys would lay down with me in the morning on the floor of the family room and chill out to some Sesame Street. Ginger would waltz out from her nesting area under our bed and lay herself down next to us, allowing the boys to pet her while she groomed herself.

One day the phone rang.

I answered it.

It was some telemarketer and I quickly hung up and placed the phone back in the kitchen.

I came back into the family room and Cole was nowhere to be found. I called out his name. He didn’t answer. I went from room to room looking for him but didn’t see him anywhere.

I did this twice.

A slight panic set in.

I heard a noise in my bedroom. And again I walked in to find no child there.

“Cole, where are you?”

And then I heard a noise under my bed.

I figured it was the cat since she pretty much lives under there almost all day long every day. But then I saw a tuft of hair by the bed frame and under it a smiling face. And I realized that Cole had “followed” Ginger under the bed. I don’t know how he managed to get under there – it appeared I was going to have to lift the frame of our king size bed to help him get out because they was no way he was going to navigate his big head through it. Yet he did.

So he apparently chased the cat down the hallway and followed her under the bed to her secret safety zone.

I haven’t seen the cat in weeks and I’m thinking it’d be best to wait until the boys are a little older before talk of getting another family pet comes up again.

* a version of this essay originally appeared in Raleigh's The Hatchet.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

When The Shit Hits The Fan... Er, Floor

So the shit storm came with a vengeance.

As I said in the previous post, my wife began to feel ill on Monday, calling off work because she felt "off" and nauseous. I wasn't feeling too bad myself and quite frankly was looking to tap into the uber gene most parents possess (usually moms) where I would be able to weather the storm and take care of everybody. I mean after almost seven years of daily exposure to the petri dish that is preschool/toddlers/kindergarten, surely I'd built up a tolerance to such nastiness.

I always marveled how my mother could manage to handle our sick family while being sick herself but then again my mother's motto always was that "she was too busy to be sick."

Anyway, so my wife came to me in the evening and said "that's twice," meaning that she had thrown up twice today. I left to pick up my oldest from elementary school. He got home and ate a Nutrigrain snack bar (which is par for the course). I still had the Hershey squirts and I didn't feel the slightest bit nauseous. But my tummy was rumbling. I hadn't had much of an appetite since the day before and barely touched any of the food we had made for the Super Bowl.

I dug through the cupboards and found a can of chicken noodle soup and ate that with liberal amounts of Ritz Crackers sprinkled on top. When I finished, my 6-year-old came up to me and said that his stomach hurt and I quizzed him on the status of his tummy ache.

Shortly thereafter the fun began.

My belly had been percolating vigorously since the soup. I began to feel flush and walked back to my bathroom where - with little warning - the contents of my stomach erupted into the toilet. I'm talking power vomiting with all the velocity of a fire hose. The kind of puke session where you are lucky to catch your breath between upchucks.

Before I could leave the bathroom, I could hear my oldest throwing up in the kids' bathroom.

The rest of the night was spent with buckets and towels by beds and keeping your fingers crossed that the bathroom wouldn't be occupied when you needed it. And even if it wasn't occupied, there was always the chance that the water hadn't refilled in time for flushing - which is always a pleasant thing to be greeted with in this frame of mind.

At one point during the night, there was a juggling of sleeping arrangements which found both boys in bed with my wife and me in my youngest son's bed.

I felt the rumble and sat up, grabbed the bucket, wretched into it and began my way to my bathroom. The second heave unleashed a torrent of shit down my leg and I made a mental note to put on socks as a buffer after this round.

When I got to the bathroom I found my oldest asleep on the floor, wrapped in towels with his head next to the toilet. I stepped over him, sat, shat and puked. At some point I had to pull my pants off and clean my legs yet still managed to hover my ass above the toilet when my stomach erupted.

I can honestly say it was one of the most heinous smells.

I cracked the window but a record cold spell was in effect and 8 degree wind blew across my clammy body. I closed the window.

Then my son woke and threw up on the floor in front of himself, waking my wife who walked in, squeezed her nose and said, "did you shit yourself?"

My house was beginning to look like the aftermath of one of my rugby parties in college, with bodies strewn about the bathroom and vomit in the air.

I took a hot shower and tried to conjure up some yogi mojo; some sort of mind-over-matter mantra to get me through the night.

And that's pretty much how the next several hours went: my son puking, my wife puking, and me shitting and puking myself.

So much for the uber parenting gene.

At least for me.

I've since concluded it may be the sole possession of the female species as my wife managed to tend to me and our son while still dealing with it all herself.

After we all were tapped out, my son passed out but my wife and I were overcome with muscle cramps and joint pain. I laid as still as possible in bed doing my best birth-breathing impressions, still searching for a mantra.

We couldn't sleep.

This actually proved beneficial as we took this sleepless time to tackle a few loads of laundry and some general disinfecting.

Then we tried to sleep again.

But I just couldn't. TiVo sure would have come in handy and I was forced to prop myself up in a chair with pillows and a blanket (and yes, a bucket) and stave off the urge to puke and shit.

Sunrise came and my wife called in sick for her and our son and the family spent the better part of the next day nodding off like junkies.

Today is Wednesday.

My wife has returned to work but the boys are both home with me.

I still don't feel too good.

I would like to find the cold side of a pillow, a dark room, and several hours of sleep...

Monday, February 05, 2007


Freaking jinxed myself with that post on Febreze...

My youngest came down with a stomach virus Saturday night and spent every twenty minutes or so releasing bodily fluids from mouth and ass.

Many loads of laundry and many sprays of Febreze later, this stomach flu tries to attack me but it's Super Bowl Sunday and I refuse to relent my body to it managing to only puke twice in the morning and strictly siding with the diarrhea side of the bug. I was hell bent on sticking to my plan of making ribs, bacon wrapped shrimp and crab rangoon for the grubfest that is SBS. I least I have plenty of leftovers!

I'm not sure if I tossed my cookies (one of my father's favorite phrases) because I was holding a bucket for my son to vomit in and had to smell it and watch his tiny body wretch or that the bitch of a virus was making a bee line for me.

Now, it's Monday morning and the little guy seems to be bouncing back just as the same time that my wife is starting to go down with it.

I managed to keep down some food this morning and even braved a cup of coffee because I had to peel my eyes back to get my 1st grader to school.

He may come out unharmed because he's been on antibiotics for an ear infection that crippled him last week (and yeah I know there's a difference between bacterial and viral infections but I'm lookin' for salvation anywhere I can get it).

Buckle up.

It's going to be a bumpy ride.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

My Love/Hate Relationship With Febreze

When I first discovered Febreze I immediately feel in love with the product.

I live in a home with two boys and a cat and the introduction of Febreze was godsend: it power to eliminate odors is rivaled by none (okay, maybe Lysol).

It is the champ of the cover-up.

Cat piss? Gone.

Kid puke? Gone.

Spilled milk on a rug? Gone.

Hairballs? Gone.

Pee in a bed? Gone.

Essentially, it will cover up just about any foul smell that you can find on your carpet, sofa, bed or any piece of fabric soiled by pet or child.

So you can clearly see why I would championed such a product and find salvation knowing that I can take out that blue bottle, spray and "Viola! Odor be gone!"

So what's the downside?

Well, my friend, the downside is that as soon as I walk into a room and get the slighest whiff of Febreze I immediately begin to run down a list of what could have transpired to require the need for the miracle spray.

Was it kid puke?

A cat turd dingle berry?

Spilled Beer?

You get my drift.

If only I could get the same results from a Yankee Candle...

Quitting The Family Band*

“I quit the band,” he said.
“You quit?” I said. “But you can’t quit.”
“I quit dad,” said my 4-year-old son Spencer.

And then he left the room.

We had just launched into a skronk fest: He on mom’s trumpet, his 15-month-old brother on drums (or shall we say cymbal) and myself on bass.

As a stay-at-home-dad going on year four of my tour of duty, there are often times of the day when jam sessions occur. The instruments have always been lying about the homestead although I’m not quite sure how the band actually started.

Or why it stopped.

But I can tell you that it all pretty much began with Thin Lizzy. Before Spencer’s younger brother came along, I’d always force a trip to the record store when out running errands. If there’s one thing you learn when you become a parent, it’s that you have to steal back your personal time or it will quickly vanish in a haze of family duties. Oftentimes I’d duck into CD Alley on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill and browse. One day I bought Thin Lizzy’s classic Jailbreak. When we got back in the car, I slipped the disc into the CD player and off we went about the day’s business.

As the weeks passed, Spencer soon began to request Thin Lizzy. He loved the “Cowboy Song,” “The Boys Are Back In Town,” and “Emerald.” He would incessantly listen to this CD to the point where my wife wanted to ban it from the car. I quickly pointed out that it was better than listening to The Wiggles or Barney.

She agreed.

Once Jailbreak was worn out (with Spencer usually referring to the album-closer “Emerald” as the “fight the fight” song), on the next visit to the record store he asked if Thin Lizzy had any other records.

So I got him Black Rose (favorite songs: “Waiting For An Alibi,” “Get Out of Here”) and then Fighting (most requested: “Fighting”).

Before long his young, feeble mind couldn’t fathom the band pictures on the CDs and he yearned to see the men playing the songs he heard. So I bought him a DVD of Thin Lizzy live in Australia in 1978.

I think soon after watching that was when the family band started.

Sometime after the inaugural viewing Spencer started to strap on my guitar and began to mimic Gary Moore’s guitar licks. He’d stick the guitar pick in his mouth and clap his hands above his head to an imaginary crowd or jump up, spread his legs and then ape doing hammer-ons.

I quickly used his interest in music to capitalize on my own wanton needs. If Spencer liked listening to music and he liked watching music then that’s what we would do: There was Devo’s The Complete Truth About De-Evolution DVD. And Zeppelin. The Who’s The Kids Are Alright (which was a mistake because shortly after viewing Keith Moon play drums Spencer began to try an incorporate some of his more famous moves like playing with his feet or hitting the cymbals with his hands).

Not wanting to short change punk rock, I tossed in Black Flag live in Europe from 1948, Fugazi’s Instrument, Minor Threat live at DC Space, and even the first Turbonegro documentary. With songs about making pizzas, Spencer was instantly gratified by Turbonegro, although he wondered why they looked so creepy.

Devo won his over completely for the sole fact that I was able to explain that front man Mark Mothersbaugh was the guy “from Devo who does the theme song from Rocket Power.” Nickelodeon’s animated cartoon Rocket Power is set to a backdrop of skateboarding, surfing, and snowboarding and features a zine-making junior high girl named Reggie and her shredding little brother Otto.

It appeared that my son was on his way to a life of rock’n’roll. At first, he flirted with the drums, then the guitar, and then back to the drums. The guitar was fun because I’d plug the axe into my shitty Peavey amp and turn it up. He’d pull the mic stand over and started making up songs. I quickly learned to keep my Fostex X-14 four-track within arm’s reach for just such circumstances. Back on drums, my wife taught him the basic intro to Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” and again he was off and running in dreams of rock’n’roll grandeur.

Soon after, he discovered that other kids were into the rock. Like Rick Davis, son of local musician Ben Davis (formerly of Sleepytime Trio, Milemaker, Bats & Mice and now fronting Ben Davis and The Jets). Rick had a band and that band even had a name – The Take-A-Rides. Rick played his first gig at age four sandwiched between Bringerer and Merge Recording Artists’ The Rosebuds. According to Rick’s dad, he has since retired the name Take-A-Rides in favor of the Secret Sea Turtles. ‘He’s into heavy, slow music now,” explained Ben in an email.

The days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months and soon I was living out Jack Black fantasies of School Of Rock proportions, teaching Spencer how to throw the goat and how to wield a mic like Iggy Pop. One day before I headed off to practice with my band the Chest Pains, he asked me if we were ever going to play live.

“Like on stage,” he said.
“Sure,” I replied.
But won’t you get nervous?” he asked
“Probably but that’s natural,” I said. “A lot of people get nervous – actors, athletes, musicians – before they perform,” I explained.
“Well, when you get to practice tell your friends you know the world’s greatest drummer,” he said.
“Who is that? Mom?” I said.
“No, me dad!” he said.

When my wife came home from work that one fateful night – the night my son quit the family band – I told her I had bad news.

“What’s that?” she asked.
“Spencer quit the family band,” I said.
“Dad!” hollered Spencer when he overheard the news.
“When I said ‘I quit’ I just meant that I was dome playing for the day,” he said wiggling his head and holding his hands up in the air flashing traces of the goombah I-talian bloodline he got my side of the family.

And so the band isn’t “officially” broken up yet, we’ll just call it on a hiatus.

*Versions of this essay appeared in Raleigh's The Hatchet and Australia's Monster Children